Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Will Texas Lawmakers Stem the Rising Tide of Educators Caught Preying on Students?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 7, 2017 at 8:08 AM

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Jane Doe, as she’s known in court records, was brand new to Memorial High School when Edgewood Independent School District police officer Manuel Hernandez accosted the 13-year-old freshman. According to a federal lawsuit, Hernandez, a man in his mid-50s, watched the girl navigate the campus on security cameras each school day. Sometimes, he would detain her in his office just to grope her. 

The sexual rampage ramped up during Jane Doe’s sophomore year, according to the suit filed in December in San Antonio federal court. 

From August 2013 until his arrest in April 2014, another Edgewood employee, Memorial High chemistry teacher Marcus Revilla, forced Jane Doe into habitual sex, sodomy and molestation — more than 100 times, and all on school grounds, according to court documents. Revilla, who was approaching 45 years old at the time, also grabbed a camera and filmed homemade pornos with the child. 

Around winter break, officer Hernandez discovered Revilla’s sexual relationship with the girl, and threatened to stir up trouble with the law. He thought of an ultimatum: He’d keep his mouth shut if Jane Doe had sex with him. 

She did, twice. He didn’t say anything. 

Ultimately, Hernandez and Revilla started issuing hall passes to Jane Doe so that the middle-aged adults could continue their sexcapade during school hours. Several months later, Jane Doe became pregnant with Revilla’s child. 

During the 2015-2016 fiscal year (September 1 to August 31), the Texas Education Agency opened 222 inappropriate relationship cases across the state, all involving an educator and a student or minor – an all-time record. While Alabama leads the nation in the amount of cases per capita, Texas is tops in the overall number of these criminal incidents.

In Texas, an improper relationship between an educator and a student is a second-degree felony, a law that’s been on the books since 2003, and carries a penalty of two to 20 years in prison. Critics cite problems with the inappropriate relationship statute; for instance, the penal code only considers the relationship illegal if both the educator and student, who can be over 17 years old (the age of consent in Texas), are in the same school district. 

For the past seven fiscal years, there has been a steady rise in the volume of these cases – often blamed on the growth of social media, though there are no hard numbers to support the claim – as well as the gravity of the wrongdoings, especially in the San Antonio area. 

Lucinda Rodriguez Caldwell, a longtime teacher at Northside ISD’s Cable Elementary School, plea-bargained for a 10-year prison stint after repeated sexual encounters with a 12-year-old student. The incident boiled over after the boy’s father spotted Caldwell’s Ford Explorer outside of the family home at 3 a.m. and realized that the boy was inside the SUV with the teacher, a married mother of two who was 41 years old at the time of her November 2012 sentencing. 

That morning, Caldwell’s Ford Explorer sped off and the father pursued the vehicle for 30 miles. When San Antonio Police Department officers pulled over both cars, they found the 12-year-old behind the wheel of his teacher’s SUV. 

Caldwell, who could’ve faced life imprisonment if convicted on the original charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child, was given shock probation and released in May 2013 after serving six months on a charge of indecency with a child by exposure. Bexar County records show that Caldwell still owed nearly $4,200 in fines as of last fall.

In some instances, superintendents, principals, administrators and teachers look the other way, fearful of a scandal or a blow to their reputation. 

The Jane Doe suit – which names Memorial High, Edgewood ISD and Edgewood PD as defendants – contends that Memorial High principal Michael Rodriguez and Edgewood ISD superintendent José Cervantes flat-out ignored the red flags. Jane Doe’s lawyers say that the inappropriate relationships only came to light after SAPD, investigating another unrelated matter, found Jane Doe’s school ID and school-issued tablet in Revilla’s car.

Currently, there are three pieces of “passing the trash” legislation pending in the 2017 Texas Legislature: Senate Bill 7, filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Senate Bill 653, authored by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano), and House Bill 218, filed by Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park). The industry term refers to a school district that forces a teacher who has been accused of sexual misconduct to resign instead of reporting the alleged offense to Texas Child Protective Services, law enforcement or the TEA, which has the power to pull the teacher’s license.

Due to the absence of federal and statewide registries, teachers who have been accused of sexual misconduct with one of their students can quietly move to another Texas school district – and not even in a different state – and score a classroom job. Just like that.

“This is not simply just an urban versus rural or versus suburban [issue]. Everyone has a problem,” says Bettencourt. “It’s a statewide plague, quite frankly.” 

Unlike doctors and lawyers, there isn’t a national code of ethics for teachers, explains Terri Miller, president of the Las Vegas, Nevada-based Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation (S.E.S.A.M.E.). “The trash gets there in the first place because they’re not properly vetted or trained at the college level when they’re studying to become teachers… that’s a huge problem,” she says.

When an educator sexually preys upon a primary or secondary school student and convinces the vulnerable minor that he’s madly in love with the student when all he wants is sex, irreparable damage is done to the child and child’s family. 

As Miller puts it, “The wounds are to the core.”

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